Kingfishers

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Kingfishers

There are 91 species of kingfishers (family Alcedinidae) which are brightly colored birds ranging in size from the 4 in (11 cm) long malachite-crested kingfisher, to the laughing kookaburra of Australia, which is up to 17 in (46 cm) long, weighing 1 lb (0.45 kg).

Kingfishers have a stocky body, with a large head equipped with a large, stout, daggerlike bill for grasping their food of fish or other small animals. The three front toes of kingfishers are fused for at least half of their length, but the adaptive significance of this trait is not known.

All kingfishers nest in cavities, usually digging these in earthen banks, or in rotten trees. Kingfishers are monogamous and pair for life. Kingfishers generally hunt from perches, although many species will also hover briefly to find their prey. The aquatic kingfishers plunge head-first into the water in pursuit of their prey.

Most kingfishers occur in the vicinity of a wide range of aquatic habitats, both fresh and estuarine, where they typically feed on fish and amphibians. Other species live in essentially terrestrial habitats, including mangrove forests, upland tropical forests, and savanna. The relatively terrestrial species of kingfishers eat a wide variety of foods, ranging from arthropods, to amphibians, reptiles, and small mammals. The prey is usually killed by repeatedly battering it against a branch or other hard substrate, and it is then eaten whole. One species, the shoe-billed kingfisher (Clytoceyx rex ) of tropical forests of New Guinea, is a terrestrial bird that is specialized for

digging earthworms, and has evolved a flat, stout, shovel-like bill.

Kingfishers typically occur in tropical and subtropical habitats, with only a few species nesting in the temperate zone. The greatest richness of species of kingfishers occurs in Southeast Asia.

The most widespread species in North America is the belted kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon ), occurring over the entire continent south of the boreal forest. The belted kingfisher utilizes a wide range of aquatic habitats, ranging from estuaries to freshwater lakes, wetlands, and even large ditches. This species has a crest, a blue back, and a white breast with a blue horizontal stripe, and a familiar, rattling call that is often heard before the bird is seen. The female of this species is more brightly colored than the male, having a cinnamon stripe across her breast, a coloration that the male lacks. The belted kingfisher nests in chambers at the end of a 3-6.5 ft (1-2 m) long tunnel dug into an exposed, earthen bank, usually beside water. This species is frequently seen perching on overhead wires, posts, and tree branches in the vicinity of aquatic habitats. The belted kingfisher is a migratory species, wintering in the southern parts of its breeding range, or in Central America and the Caribbean. The green kingfisher (Chloroceryle americana ) occurs only in south Texas and Arizona, and more widely in Mexico.

Most of the 10 Australian species of kingfishers are terrestrial, the laughing kookaburra (Dacelo gigas ) being the best known species to most people. This is a large bird that makes its presence noisily known, and has garnered at least 25 common names in various parts of that country, most of which describe its raucous cries. The laughing kookaburra feeds largely on snakes and lizards, and some people feel that the species is beneficial for this reason. However, the kookaburra sometimes raids farmyards for young chickens and ducklings, and is then regarded as a minor pest.

Sometimes, particular kingfishers learn to feed at commercial trout farms or other sorts of aquaculture facilities, where these birds can become significant pests. However, the damage caused by kingfishers and other fish-eating birds can be easily dealt with by suspending netting over the aquaculture ponds.

The main threats to kingfishers come from habitat disruption or destruction due to rainforest clearance and drainage or pollution of their aquatic habitats. Ten species are currently under some degree of threat and all of these are found in Southeast Asia or Oceania where they primarily inhabit forests.

Resources

BOOKS

The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Ornithology. M. Brooke and T. Birkhead, eds. Cambridge University Press, 1991.

del Hoyo, J., A. Elliott, and J. Sargatal. Handbook of the Birds of the World. Vol. 6, Mousebirds to Hornbills. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions, 2001.

Forshaw, Joseph. Encyclopedia of Birds. 2nd ed. New York: Academic Press, 1998.

Fry, C.H., K. Fry, and A. Harris. Kingfishers, Bee-eaters, and Rollers : A Handbook. London: Helm, 1992.

Bill Freedman

views updated

Kingfishers

There are 87 species of kingfishers (family Alcedinidae) which are brightly-colored birds ranging in size from the 4 in (11 cm) long malachite-crested kingfisher, to the laughing kookaburra of Australia , which is 18 in (46 cm) long, weighing 2 lb (0.5 kg).

Kingfishers have a stocky body, with a large head equipped with a large, stout, dagger-like bill for grasping their food of fish or other small animals. The three front toes of kingfishers are fused for at least half of their length, but the adaptive significance of this trait is not known.

All kingfishers nest in cavities, usually digging these in earthen banks, or in rotten trees. Kingfishers are monogamous and pair for life. Kingfishers generally hunt from perches, although many species will also hover briefly to find their prey . The aquatic kingfishers plunge head-first into the water in pursuit of their prey.

Most kingfishers occur in the vicinity of a wide range of aquatic habitats, both fresh and estuarine, where they typically feed on fish and amphibians . Other species live in essentially terrestrial habitats, including mangrove forests , upland tropical forests, and savanna . The relatively terrestrial species of kingfishers eat a wide variety of foods, ranging from arthropods , to amphibians, reptiles , and small mammals . The prey is usually killed by repeatedly battering it against a branch or other hard substrate, and it is then eaten whole. One species, the shoe-billed kingfisher (Clytoceyx rex) of tropical forests of New Guinea, is a terrestrial bird that is specialized for digging earthworms, and has evolved a flat, stout, shovel-like bill.

Kingfishers typically occur in tropical and sub-tropical habitats, with only a few species nesting in the temperate zone. The greatest richness of species of kingfishers occurs in southeast Asia .

The most widespread species in North America is the belted kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon), occurring over the entire continent south of the boreal forest. The belted kingfisher utilizes a wide range of aquatic habitats, ranging from estuaries to freshwater lakes, wetlands , and even large ditches. This species has a crest, a blue back, and a white breast with a blue horizontal stripe, and a familiar, rattling call that is often heard before the bird is seen. The female of this species is more brightly colored than the male, having a cinnamon stripe across her breast, a coloration that the male lacks. The belted kingfisher nests in chambers at the end of a 3-6.5 ft (1-2 m) long tunnel dug into an exposed, earthen bank, usually beside water. This species is frequently seen perching on overhead wires, posts, and tree branches in the vicinity of aquatic habitats. The belted kingfisher is a migratory species, wintering in the southern parts of its breeding range, or in Central America and the Caribbean. The green kingfisher (Chloroceryle americana) occurs only in south Texas and Arizona, and more widely in Mexico.

Most of the 10 Australian species of kingfishers are terrestrial, the laughing kookaburra (Dacelo gigas) being the best known species to most people. This is a large bird that makes its presence noisily known, and has garnered at least 25 common names in various parts of that country, most of which describe its raucous cries. The laughing kookaburra feeds largely on snakes and lizards, and some people feel that the species is beneficial for this reason. However, the kookaburra sometimes raids farmyards for young chickens and ducklings, and is then regarded as a minor pest.

Sometimes, particular kingfishers learn to feed at commercial trout farms or other sorts of aquaculture facilities, where these birds can become significant pests . However, the damage caused by kingfishers and other fish-eating birds can be easily dealt with by suspending netting over the aquaculture ponds.

Resources

books

The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Ornithology. M. Brooke and T. Birkhead, eds. Cambridge University Press, 1991.

Forshaw, Joseph. Encyclopedia of Birds. New York: Academic Press, 1998.

Fry, C.H., K. Fry, and A. Harris. Kingfishers, Bee-eaters, andRollers: A Handbook. London: Helm, 1992.


Bill Freedman

views updated

Alcedinidae (kingfishers; class Aves, order Coraciiformes) A family of brightly coloured birds that have large heads, short necks, compact bodies, short, rounded wings, and a short tail. The bill is long, straight, and massive; the toes syndactylous. The sexes are usually alike. They are found in riverine and terrestrial habitats (the 40 species of Halcyon (the whitecollared kingfisher, H. Chloris, has nearly 50 subspecies), found in Africa, Asia, Australia, and the Pacific islands, inhabit dry woodland and forest areas) feeding on fish, insects, and small vertebrates. The five Ceryle species, of America, Africa, and Asia, are blue-grey or black and white. The 11 Ceyx species are blue or red with red bills and are found in southern Asia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and Australia. There are 14 genera in the family, and 84 species, of which the best known are Alcedo atthis (common kingfisher) and Dacelo novaeguineae (kookaburra). They are found world-wide.

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kingfisherAsher, clasher, Falasha, flasher, lasher, masher, Natasha, pasha, rasher, Sasha, slasher, smasher, thrasher •haberdasher • gatecrasher • Marsha •rancher •flesher, fresher, pressure, thresher •welsher •adventure, bencher, censure, dementia, front-bencher, trencher, venture, wencher •backbencher • acupressure •acacia, Asia, Croatia, Dalmatia, ex gratia, geisha •Lucretia, magnesia, Rhodesia, Venetia •Fischer, fisher, fissure, justiciar, Laetitia, militia, Patricia, Phoenicia, Tricia •clincher, flincher, lyncher, wincher •Frobisher • furbisher • brandisher •Yiddisher • kingfisher • establisher •embellisher •abolisher, demolisher, polisher •publisher • skirmisher • replenisher •finisher • punisher •burnisher, furnisher •perisher •flourisher, nourisher •Britisher • ravisher • languisher •vanquisher • well-wisher •extinguisher • Elisha

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king·fish·er / ˈkingˌfishər/ • n. an often brightly colored bird (family Alcedinidae) with a long sharp beak, typically diving for fish from a perch. Many of the tropical kinds live in forests and feed on insects and lizards. Its many genera and numerous species include the belted kingfisher (Ceryle alcyon), found throughout North America.

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kingfishers See ALCEDINIDAE; CORACIIFORMES.

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kingfisher Compact, brightly coloured bird with a straight, sharp bill. It dives for fish along rivers, streams and lakes. It nests in a horizontal hole in an earth bank. Length: 12.7–43.2cm (5–17in). Family Alcedinidae.